The threat of having one of his arms and one of his legs removed was a strong motivator for Judge Joel Pearce to turn this review in on time.
The gate to the future has just been opened…
In an interview on the first Texhnolyze disc with series creator Yasuyuki Ueda, he admits that this first volume is very dark and drags quite a bit. He practically apologizes to us, and promises that we will be rewarded for our patience.
Anyone who complains that much of the science fiction in anime is ambiguous and inaccessible may want to avoid Texhnolyze completely. It follows the lives of four characters that inhabit an underground city called Lukuss. Their stories are rapidly and fluidly intercut, with virtually no explanation about who they are or how they are connected, if at all. Several gangs run the city, including the Yakuza-influenced Orugano who control the city, and the Salvation Union, a crazy religious cult. There have already been references to several other groups, but it is not yet clear how they fit in. It's quite intriguing, but I was left feeling like very little had been established across the first four episodes.
The protagonist is a young boxer named Ichise who manages to piss off an angry gang, which chops off one of his arms and one of his legs. From some references that are made, it seems like lots of people in Lukuss receive this fate. Some are then fortunate enough to be Texhnolyzed, fitted with robotic limbs. There are three other major characters. The first of these is Yoshii, a quiet man from the surface who can handle himself in a shoot-out. He meets up with Ran, a young girl who can see the future. The other major character is Onishi, who rules the Orugano crime syndicate. They are all interesting characters, but once again I feel that not enough establishing has been done for how far into the series I have watched.
The biggest problem with these first four episodes is the pacing. I don't mind some mystery surrounding the characters and plot, but Texhnolyze has obviously been designed to be as confusing as possible. It was produced by the same people that made Serial Experiment: Lain. The ambiguity in Lain worked because it was asking big philosophical questions. Here, it just feels like opacity masquerading as profundity. Is the series moving in any kind of direction? I certainly hope so. I don't feel attached to any of the characters yet, which is so important for a television series. By the end of the fourth episode, some things are starting to fall into place, but the series has a long way to go.
The technical proficiency of the animation makes me wish I was more compelled by the story. The city of Lukuss is dark and grungy, with great detail and use of color. The use of some CGI objects, transparency, and reflections never feel out of place, and the backgrounds are darkly beautiful. The characters are drawn simply but precisely, with deep shadows and accurate expressions. Digital grain is added to distinguish some scenes, which works well to help orient the viewer in such a scattered story. The video transfer on the disc does a great job of conveying this great animation. A low bitrate occasionally reveals some slight haloing, but that could just as easily be from the animation itself. The digital grain is handled well, and there is a great black level that is put to excellent use.
The sound is almost as good. Both the Japanese and English audio tracks are in Dolby 2.0 stereo, and are well mixed. The pounding techno opening packs a strong punch, but the guitar and rhythm based background music is subtle and effective. The dialogue is always clear, and the sound effects are well done. A 5.1 track would have been nice, but it sounds about as good as a stereo track can. The Japanese track is definitely preferred. With so little dialogue, the subtitles are not too distracting, and the English dub uses those crappy British voice actors that always seem to turn up in anime.
The disc does not have much in the way of extras. There is a brief interview with show creators Yasuyuki Ueda and Yoshitoshi Abe. They talk intelligently about the design of the series, and are careful not to give away plot details from upcoming volumes (assuming there is a plot to give away). The only other extra on the disc is a 40-second clip of "dialogue outtakes," which is basically the English voice actors saying stupid and inappropriate things in several of the scenes.
In the end, I am not sure whether to recommend Texhnolyze. It looks and sounds great, but it's a very slow and confusing start for the series. Depending what happens in the upcoming volumes, it could become a great and fascinating series. All the pieces are in place for it to become a highly original classic in a sea of crappy shows. If it does not start to move in a unified direction soon, though, it will be a waste of so much potential.
Fans of dark sci-fi anime should give Texhnolyze a watch to see if it grabs them. At this point, I am advising against a purchase for most people, although that may change depending on where the series goes from here.
Due to a lack of evidence, I will suspend judgment until further volumes arrive in the courtroom.
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